He removed his shirt, snuggled in beside me and kissed my earlobe, nibbling at it gently before urgently thrusting his tongue inside. He smelled strange… musty, and his whiskers were tickling my face… Whiskers?
I opened my eyes and screamed. The fox vanished so quickly that I wondered whether I had imagined the whole thing, but no, the evidence was there beside me. I had been so tired last night that I had fallen asleep before I finished eating. The remains of my sandwiches were scattered between my sleeping bag and the door, which hung open, swinging precariously on one hinge.
I shivered. That would have to be one of my first jobs this morning, as soon as my furniture and the rest of my things arrived. I got up and shook the crumbs out my sleeping bag, before picking up the remains of last nights supper from the floor.
Placing the plug in the huge enamel Belfast sink, I cranked the pump handle, filling the basin with ice cold water. It was surprisingly clean and washing my face in the clear, chemical free liquid left me feeling bizarrely righteous, like an Amish homesteader returning to the fellowship after wantonly deserting the community for the bright lights of the city.
My furniture, tools and kitchen supplies arrived mid morning. The delivery men were far from happy when they realised how far from the main road the cottage was.
“We can’t carry the stuff inside I’m afraid – health and safety,” said the older of the two men eyeing my slight form with a shrug, “we’ll have to drop it here.”
It had rained last night and the track had rapidly become a quagmire. The porch at the front of the property was wet and muddy already. I looked down at their boots, which were caked in mud.
“That’s fine,” I said. I was not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me squirm. “I wouldn’t want those dirty boots inside anyway.”
By midday, I had managed to drag the boxes and furniture indoors and an hour later everything had been unpacked and stowed away. One advantage of having so little, I guess.
Things were going rather well until I attempted to fix the door. I had screws and a screwdriver – how hard could it be to hang a door, I thought.
It turns out that hanging a door on your own, particularly when you are only five feet two inches tall, is no walk in the park.
One bruised thumb, a torn blouse and an hour of cursing later, the door was at least hanging on two hinges, though it squeaked loudly as I swung it shut and there was a gap at the bottom large enough to ensure that visits by a variety of small rodents were pretty much guaranteed.
Tired and hungry, I slipped on my wellington boots and parka and walked to the village. The village pub was in an old stone-built building, 1592 was carved in stone over the door. A heavy oak sign hung outside. It was painted with sheaves of corn and the pub name – ‘The Barley Mo’.
Great, I thought, I’ll get a hot pub lunch. However, as soon as I walked in, I knew I had made a mistake. It was dark and gloomy inside, and this was not helped by wall to wall wooden panelling, oak beams, and small leaded windows. Two elderly men sat at the end of the bar drinking flat beer. They eyed me suspiciously as I walked in.
I waited at the bar, though there were no staff to be seen anywhere.
“Flo’s out back,” said one of the men.
A circle of fluffy white hair surrounded his bald head like a halo and his bushy moustache twitched as he spoke. I stifled a giggle as I realised that I was looking at the human versions of Waldorf and Statler, the two cantankerous old men from the Muppets.
“If it’s food you’re after,” said Statler, raising two bristly grey brows, “you’ll be outa luck. The Barley Mo don’t serve food, it’s a drinking man’s pub.”
“Aye,” said Waldorf, “an’ for locals only. We have no truck with Grockles around here.”
“What you want?” The woman who spoke those words looked like every illustration of an old witch that I had ever seen.
Scenes from Children of the Corn played in my head alongside the image of my ex, muttering ‘I always knew you would come to a sticky end – what were you thinking Esme?’
Wild white hair frizzed around a wizened face, creased by a deep frown.
“Err… I’ve just moved into the cottage in Hemlock Wood” I said, adding hopefully, ” I was wondering if there was anywhere local that I could get some hot food.”
The woman’s laugh did nothing to reassure me that my impression of her being a ‘Witch’ was entirely unreasonable.
“Did you hear that Stan,” She turned to Statler, “missy here’s moved into old Meda’s place”
“Meda?” I said, “An unusual name. Has she been gone long, only the house is in a bit of a state?”
“The name’s pagan,” the woman said, pouring a shot of whiskey in a glass and pushing it towards me, “folks will tell you she’s still around. Many have seen her walking her old hound down by the brook at dusk.”
“So she’s moved locally?” I picked up the glass and took a sip of the bitter amber liquid.
“Nah, she’s been dead for years.” She chuckled as I choked on the whiskey.
“Aye Flo, don’t go scaring the lass,” Waldorf gave me a wink, “no one’s really seen her walking the woods. It’s just a story put about to stop kids vandalising the property.”
“They call it Hell’s Homestead now,” mumbled Stanley, “and no one goes near the place, so I guess it did the trick.”
Hell’s Homestead? Kevin told me to go to Hell… and I actually went?
Written by Karen Wrighton
Copyright 2017 Karen Wrighton
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